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Hand Cross (mäsqäl)

Arts of Africa

Ethiopian Crosses
Christianity most likely arrived in Ethiopia in the first century. The conversion of King Ezana in 330 c.e. led to its official acceptance and the minting of coins bearing one of the earliest uses of the cross as a Christian symbol. Although the silver pendant crosses in the Museum’s collection are from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, their forms have a considerably longer history, as the much older copper, wood, and iron crosses here demonstrate.

Hand crosses, which are used by priests, are either hand-held or suspended from a cord around the neck. They are kissed by the faithful to receive a blessing. Processional crosses are carried on long poles in religious processions. Prayer staffs are used to mark rhythms during sacred dances and as supports to lean on while standing for long hours during Orthodox church services. Together, all of these crosses are emblems of the Ethiopian Orthodox church’s ongoing authority.
DATES 17th or 18th century
DIMENSIONS 10 1/2 x 3 1/2 x 1/2 in. (26.7 x 8.9 x 1.3 cm)  (show scale)
COLLECTIONS Arts of Africa
CREDIT LINE Gift of Miodrag Janjusevic
CATALOGUE DESCRIPTION Wood hand cross with lower tablet, central shaft, upper cross, carved foliate, forms that are checkered, crossed, dentated, and linear, and a fine patina. Condition: Good.
MUSEUM LOCATION This item is not on view
CAPTION Amhara. Hand Cross (mäsqäl), 17th or 18th century. Wood, 10 1/2 x 3 1/2 x 1/2 in. (26.7 x 8.9 x 1.3 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Miodrag Janjusevic, 1998.126.4. Creative Commons-BY (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 1998.126.4_transpc005.jpg)
IMAGE overall, 1998.126.4_transpc005.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph
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